Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Good the Bad and the Ugly: The Weak Dollar, CIT's Bankrupcy, Aircraft Leasing

1) The economic recovery: Real GDP grew at a 3.5 percent seasonally adjusted annual rate in the third quarter after falling five of the previous six quarters. Jeff Bator in the Wall Street Journal writes, "[A]fter a bullish report on manufacturing suggested the smokestack sector is in a hiring mood., ...U.S. factory goods orders rose in September...0.9%, the Commerce Department said Tuesday, the fifth increase in six months. Orders fell an unrevised 0.8% in August."
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World trade bottomed out in April and our national economy's recovery started in June according to my best estimate.

2) The main opportunities and threats to recovery here in Wichita: the weak dollar is helping make American aircraft more competitive vis-à-vis Airbus and Embraer.  In the Wall Street Journal, Mike Spector Vanessa O'Connell and Kate Haywood reported that CIT filed for bankruptcy "in New York, listing assets about $71 billion and nearly $65 billion in liabilities." CIT's bankruptcy shows the fragile financial shape of the aircraft leasing business.  CIT Aerospace is a major aircraft lessor with aircraft worth something in the vicinity of $10 billion.

Seven aircraft leasing companies (GE Capital Aviation Services, AIG's International Lease Finance Corporation, CIT Aerospace, Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC's RBS Aviation Capital, Bank of China's BOC Aviation, Pacific LifeCorp Inc.'s Aviation Capital Group, and Pembroke Group, a unit of Britain's Standard Chartered PLC) are big customers of the aircraft manufacturers.   Last fall, we were shocked to discover that AIG was Boeing's and Airbus' biggest customer. Daniel Michaels at the Wall Street Journal estimates that approximately 35% of the world's jetliners are owned by these lessors.  Thus these lessors' own $147 billion of the world's $417 billion worth of jets. The larger lessors are all in shaky financial shape.  This means the biggest set of customers for Airbus and Boeing (Spirit's customers) face severe financial constraints to their buying planes.



Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Henrique de Campos Meirelle On Brazil's Success Through the Financial Crisis

Henrique de Campos Meirelles is the Governor of Banco Central do Brasil. Maybe Ben Bernanke could learn a thing or two from this interview with the economist:


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Maybe You Prefer Pisner Urquell or Budweiser (from České Budějovice!) or Klášter, But István Szoke Thinks Staropramen Is a "Hidden Gem."


The MoneyMeisters (I can not call them breumeisters) at Anheuser Busch InBev are shuffling their portfolio.  They are selling to private equity investors, CVC, their eastern and central European operations and distribution system for $2.2 billion.  Matthew Curtin judges "CVC is paying around nine times last year's Ebitda assuming it hits its return targets, triggering another $800 million payment to ABI. CVC will fund the deal with $1 billion in debt raised from a variety of banks. The three times debt to Ebitda is well below the six times-plus multiples typical during the boom."  EBITDA is earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.  It is an operating cash flow approximation that is often used in valuations. Lex in the Financial Times adds, "Evolution Securities estimates $2.23bn represents about eight times 2009 earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. That is some way below the 10 times-plus of big boom-era beer deals but for AB InBev it is respectable enough, given the potential extra $800m payments."

Matthew Dalton fills out the price: "AB InBev will receive $1.62 billion in cash for the Central and Eastern Europe assets. AB InBev will also receive a $448 million unsecured deferred payment obligation from CVC with a six-year maturity that can be extended 2 years, paying interest at between 8% and 15%. Finally, AB InBev will get $165 million in minority interests."

He tells us "The operations being sold are located in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia."  CVC gets to "brew and/or distribute Stella Artois, Beck's, Löwenbräu, Hoegaarden, Spaten and Leffe -- AB InBev's main brands in Europe" in those countries.  They acquire, among other brands, Staropramen.


InBev wants to focus on big brands in big countries.


But how good a deal is it for the buyers?  Yes they are paying less than the heady multiples of the bubble years. It looks like they have been clever in structuring it.  Interestingly, according to Martin Arnold and Philip Stafford, "István Szoke, head of CVC’s new central and east European buy-out team, told the Financial Times that Staropramen was 'the hidden gem' among the assets."


The deal turns financially on buying at the bottom and an eventual recovery in revenues as the local economies recover.  Mr Szoke told FT, "We think we are buying this business at somewhat of a trough, as we expect the [east European] region to recover and grow, which will benefit the top line of the company." The Czech Republic, a world leader in beer consumption, is like the caboose on a train in the globalized economy.  “We were surprised by how hard beer consumption has been hit in the region,” said Mr Szoke. “But beer consumption is driven by disposable income and that will recover once this crisis ends in a year or so.”  Since world trade started turning around in early spring, maybe the caboose will make back to the pub by next year.

The Rise of the Loonie

The Canadian dollar is so strong, the Bank of Canada may intervene lest a too strong Loonie stifle the recovery north of the border.

The State of General Aviation and the Consequences for Wichita

The National Business Aviation Association conference is opening in Orlando, Florida next week.  It and surrounding events will provide focus the business world's attention on general aviation and the economic hammering it has taken.  The Wichita Eagle's Molly Mullins in a big Business Section feature surveys the damage, "The state of Kansas' business aviation industry."


She writes:


"Nobody saw this coming.


"Thousands of jobs lost. Production cuts. Furloughs. The cancellation of a major new aircraft program.


"The global financial crisis hit the business jet market hard and fast and put Wichita's lifeblood industry in an agonizing free fall.


"A year later, there is evidence that the global economy is in the early stages of recovery. But for business aviation and Wichita planemakers, the climb back will be long and slow."

Back in March, 2008, I argued that the national economy had been in a recession for six months or more ("What is Good for Wichita Is Hemlock for Wall Street.") The National Bureau of Economic Research eventually dated the recession to have started in December, 2007.  Few fully appreciated the extent of the general aviation bubble ("2007 Increasingly Looks like It was a Bubble Year for the Aircraft Industry.")  The bursting, when it came in the fourth quarter of 2008 was dramatic. 


Peter Sanders at the Wall Street Journal reports on the effect of the aviation downturn on Wichita's economy noting that "more than a quarter of the area's aviation work force has been let go, not including thousands more layoffs among parts suppliers and support businesses."

Cessna's New Orders "Nosedived" In the Fourth Quarter of 2008

To amplify Sanders' report, Cessna's new orders, net of cancellations, averaged about $2.4 billion a quarter in the first three quarters of 2008.  They fell over 80 percent to $400 million in the last quarter.  (These are my estimates based on Textron financial reports.)

Outsourcing

Sanders also reports on a "recent push to manufacture offshore that many Wichita aerospace companies have embarked on. Some companies have opened operations in Mexico. During the boom times in late 2007, Cessna announced it would build a new, small propeller plane in China. That plane would be shipped to Wichita for reassembly and delivery to U.S. customers.


"While the companies are guarded about their plans in light of the downturn, officials concede that it is unlikely that they would expand their Wichita operations beyond today's level. Any future growth would probably happen abroad."

Commentary

A few points:

1) 2007 was a bubble year for general aviation.  Look at the new orders data. 

2) The bubble was fueled by the same over expansion of credit that fueled the housing bubble. 

3) The negative short term interest rates of 2002-2004 enabled (should I say caused?) the credit over expansion.

4) The general aviation industry over expanded in 2008. 

Fun Question: Would Cessna have expanded production as much in 2008 had it been independent rather than owned by Textron?


5) On the commercial front, Boeing expanded much more cautiously.  Compare Boeing's production in the run-up to this recession with its production in the run-up to the 2001 recession.   This has allowed Spirit to hang tight and manage for the longer run.

Fun Question: Do you attribute that to good management, conservatism, or technical delays?


6) Hypocrisy in Washington about corporate jets is business as usual.  Congress votes to appropriate for themselves a more elaborate fleet of planes than the Air Force requested.  Simultaneously, it pillories corporate executives.  (For the Journal, Brody Mullins and August Cole reported in August, "the House more than doubled the [Air Force's] request to $550 million for a total of eight new passenger planes for use by government VIPs.")

7) Outsourcing has its drawbacks as the yo yo economy of 2008 demonstrates.  

8) Outsourcing means having less control.  Boeing has had to buy back three of its suppliers to get the Dreamliner back on path.


9) The administration's fiscal policy and the Fed's monetary policy represent more than the benign neglect of the 1980s.  This may be Washington's real industrial policy.  Let the dollar get so worthless that manufacturing will find it cheaper to come home.  We can debate whether that is a plan.


In the long view of things, Wichita's current 8.9% unemployment rate (10% in July) is collateral damage from Alan Greenspan's and Ben Bernanke's misjudgment that preventing bubbles was not their job.  As in the refrain from the old Pete Seeger song goes, "When will they ever learn?"

Monday, October 12, 2009

Elinor Ostrom and Oliver E. Williamson Win the Nobel Prize In Economics

"Governance" is the key word in this year's economics announcement.   How do people come up with organizational solutions to problems other than individulalistic market transactions or centrally imposed solutions?  How do they solve issues of collective rights?

The Committee tells us "Economic transactions take place not only in markets, but also within firms, associations, households, and agencies. Whereas economic theory has comprehensively illuminated the virtues and limitations of markets, it has traditionally paid less attention to other institutional arrangements. The research of Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson demonstrates that economic analysis can shed light on most forms of social organization.

"Elinor Ostrom has challenged the conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and should be either regulated by central authorities or privatized. Based on numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins, Ostrom concludes that the outcomes are, more often than not, better than predicted by standard theories. She observes that resource users frequently develop sophisticated mechanisms for decision-making and rule enforcement to handle conflicts of interest, and she characterizes the rules that promote successful outcomes."


Understanding why the firm exists is one of the crucial questions of economics and not one extensively explored in mainstream economics. 

I am fascinated by Ostrom's award.  How people work out collective rights with neither a simple market solution nor government imposing one is a great area of inquiry.  Here we get to the nexus between law and spontaneous order.   What is the relationship between economic regulation and property rights?  When does positive law harm collective decision making? I have some reading to do!

One issue from the financial crisis to which Ostrom and Williamson's work is directly relevant is whether investment banks behave more responsibly as partnerships rather corporations.  Their excessive risktaking seems directly related to their going public.

Speaking of the financial crisis and organizational forms, maybe the committee should give George Benston the Nobel prize posthumously for demonstrating empirically that banks with investment affiliates performed better than those without.  In other words,  Glass Steagall's separation of investment from commercial banking was more about Senator Glass's Anglophilia than economic sense. Glass Steagall left investment banks outside prudential regulation. If the SEC had that responsibility, it is hard to see it in its history. Thanks to the structure set up by Graham Leach Bliley, all the major investment banks are either owned by a commercial bank or have become bank holding companies and are now under the Fed's prudential regulation.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Unemployment Rate Goes to 9.7% and Payrolls Drop "Only" 216,000

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on the August employment situation this morning.

The Nation

The national unemployment rate rose to 9.7 percent in August from 9.4 percent in July and 9.5 percent in June.  The size of the labor force still reflects the upsurge we saw at the beginning of the summer.  The month to month variation in th employment rate mostly reflects the sampling variation in the proportion of respondents who say they have jobs.

Non-farm payrolls fell by 216,000 in August.

April Is the Cruelest Month

The Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of households shows a drop of 1,351,000 employed since April, while the payroll survey shows a fall of 1,258,000 jobs.  The good news is that new unemployment claims peaked in April.  Historically this has been a reliable indicator of a recession's end.

Wichita

Although BLS did not report job losses for the aerospace industry, transportation equipment other than autos and auto parts fell by another twelve hundred for a total loss of 17,100 since April.

Monday, August 31, 2009

AIG's Financial Crisis and Boeing's Biggest Customer

Boeing and Airbus's biggest commercial customer is not an airline but the fallen insurance giant, AIG (see my earlier  posting "Who's Boeing's and Airbus's Biggest Customer? Would You Believe AIG?") AIG's financial Götterdämmerung forced International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC),which it owns, onto the Fed's life support system last October.  When AIG lost its investment grade rating, ILFC could no longer access the commercial paper market to roll over its short term debt.


AIG has been intent on paying off the $80 billion federal debt that keeps it in bondage to Washington.  The strategy has been to sell off assets.  The flaw in this strategy has been that you get Filene's Basement prices not Neiman Marcus prices when you dump assets at market bottoms when buyers know you have to sell and the few who have the cash bargain hard.  In the Wall Street Journal, Matthew Karnitschnig and Liam Pleven tell us AIG's new CEO, Robert Benmosche, is reconsidering its asset sales strategy

AIG has been trying to sell ILFC for a year.  Now Peter Sanders and Daniel Michaels also at the Wall Street Journal write that Steven F. Udvar-Hazy, chairman and chief executive of International Lease Finance Corp., is trying to work a deal whereby he and investors carve out a part of ILFC and go it alone.  The investors are supposed to be mostly from the Middle East and China.

The Hungarian born "Mr. Hazy is a co-founder of ILFC, which now owns about 1,000 aircraft, most of which are leased to commercial airlines world-wide. ILFC is the largest customer of Boeing Co.'s upcoming 787 Dreamliner, with 74 planes on order."

It is important to Spirit that a major support for the demand for commercial aircraft have the financing to buy planes and maintain its existing portfolio.  Boeing was more conservative expanding production in 2008 than its general aviation brethren seeking not to repeat the mistakes of the late 1990s.   So far Spirit has done a laudable job maintaining its workforce for the future.  We in Wichita where the unemployment rate is now 9.9 percent hope that continues. 


Steven F. Udvar-Hazy and General John R. "Jack" Dailey at the overlook of the new Center.
Photo by Carolyn Russo, National Air and Space Museum

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bernanke To Get a Second Term as Chair

President Obama is scheduled to announce that Princeton Professor Ben Bernanke will be renominated to a second term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve 's Board of Governors. It is not official. The ritual requires that the Fed Chairman fly from Jackson Hole to Martha's Vineyard: two of the least connected places in the U.S. of A. by commercial aircraft. (You thought flying from Wichita was wearisome.) Maybe he will fly one of those chartered planes they use to clear checks faster. Or (Scandal! Scandal!) a corporate jet!

I have said before that it is virtually Providential that this particular economist (Ben Bernanke) should be Fed Chairman at this point in America's history. As a young economist, Ben Benanke demonstrated that it was the financial collapse of intermediaries that transformed an ordinary economic downturn in 1929 into a world wide depression.

Right now, the peculiar world of macroeconomics is not centered in New York, Washington, London, or Frankfort, but in a tiny resort in the Grand Tetons: Jackson Hole. Having dragged a popup trailer over the 7,000 foot Grand Teton Pass, I can testify to the rugged beauty of this very isolated part of Wyoming. Malcolm, Jr. when we went cross country noticed that we had not in the whole state of Wyoming seen a town where the population was greater than the elevation.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the economists meeting in the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City's economic conference were rooting for Ben Bernanke to be reappointed. According to Jon Hilsenrath, "The economists and officials from around the world who met in the Grand Tetons are a naturally sympathetic audience.

"The group largely admires the aggressive, outside-of-the-textbook steps Mr. Bernanke took last fall after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapsed. "

Hilsenrath quotes Martin Feldstein"This is a group of people who like the Fed....Ben came to the Fed as an expert's expert on fundamental monetary policy and went far beyond that with all of his creative policies."

Unfortunately, I am not confident that Professor Bernanke has learned the lesson of the early 2000s. Unemployment was high after the 2001 recession not due to a lack of aggregate demand, but because many suffered the unpleasant effects of mal-investment.

If he believes that monetary policy is not responsible for bubbles and that the only short term worry is deflation of consumer prices, we are all in trouble.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Wichita's Unemployment Rate Jumps from 8.5% to 9.9%

The Kansas Department of Labor reported today that Wichita's economy lost 4,671 jobs in July and the unemployment rate hit 9.9 percent.

Seasonality plays a big part of it. In the Eagle, Dan Voorhis rightly points out that "The Wichita unemployment rate typically peaks in the summer months because some workers are laid off temporarily and claim unemployment. That may be exaggerated this year by employee furloughs." The summer labor force also reflects school leavers and youngsters looking for summer work. Some of this month's high unemployment rate reflects this.

Wichita's labor force participation rates have run about seven tenths of a percent higher than average in July, although the seasonal increase is greater when employment is scarcer. Comparing July this year with July two years ago, the labor force has grown about 21,300. A little over a third of that is population growth and a bit less than half is the increase in the labor force participation rate. So more people are looking for work either to supplement the lost income of families hit by the recession or to take advantage of the increases in the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage rose in the second of three steps in July. A seasonal reduction in the work force in August may keep us below 10%, but it is a touch and go proposition at this point.

The Kansas unemployment rate rose from 7% to 7.7 percent while Kansas payrolls shed 48,500 jobs. Labor Economist Tyler Tenbrink comments, "The amount of over-the-year job losses dropped from 54,800 jobs in June to 48,500 jobs in July. Although this is still a significant loss, it indicates that the rate of job loss did slow from last month. It remains to be seen if July will begin a new trend of slowing job loss or if we will return to the more rapid pace of job loss we were experiencing in the months prior to July."

Friday, August 14, 2009

China Is #2 In the GDP Tables

Wikipedia summarizes the rankings of the world's economies measured by GDP at Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) prices. The U.S. is #1 still, but China is now #2.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Where There Is a Way, Is there a Will?

Not too long ago George Melloan asked on the Opinion pages of the Wall street asked a troubling question:

"Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke assured readers of this page (“The Fed’s Exit Strategy,” July 21) that he has the tools to prevent the huge reserves he’s pumped into the banks from generating an inflation that would abort an economic recovery.

"But does the Fed have the guts to use those tools?"

There You Go Again, Mr President!

The editors of Wall Street Journal wonder if Ginnie Mae is "The Next Fannie Mae?" Specifically they worry, "Ginnie Mae or the Government National Mortgage Association, which will soon join them as a trillion-dollar packager of subprime mortgages." They explain, "Ginnie’s mission is to bundle, guarantee and then sell mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration [the FHA], which is Uncle Sam’s home mortgage shop. Ginnie’s growth is a by-product of the FHA’s spectacular growth. The FHA now insures $560 billion of mortgages—quadruple the amount in 2006. Among the FHA, Ginnie, Fannie and Freddie, nearly nine of every 10 new mortgages in America now carry a federal taxpayer guarantee."

In August, 2008, I deplored the Financial Industrial Complex, the lobbyists and investment bankers that have Congress wrapped around their fingers, in "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: Look Past the Jargon, and You Find a $5 Billion Scandal." The federal government's takeover of Fannie and Freddie effectively transferred private sector and foreign government losses to the American taxpayer. Now the Administration is continuing that practice on what promises to be a grand scale using Ginnie Mae. The lobbyists, their congressional clients, and the administration are happily portraying this fiscal folly as "feeling the homeowners' pain" and "dealing with the foreclosure problem."

No doubt the administration's complicity in the renewed supply of dodgy debt will keep the Chinese happy (they have a huge exposure to American mortgage backed securities) and it indirectly bails out the Fed (have you looked at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's balance sheet lately?) The Financial Industrial Complex, which you think would be hiding in disgrace, is riding high. I past a car yesterday, and it was not a Mercedes or an SUV, which had written on its window in soup: "Honk, if I am paying your mortgage."


Mark Twain once boasted, "We have the best Congress money can buy."

Saturday, August 08, 2009

China May Be the World Economy's Engine of Growth, But Are Mr, Han's Gauges Accurate?

Earlier this week, Jamil Anderlini wrote in the Financial Times that "China’s gross domestic product figures" do not add up: "the latest set of first-half numbers provided by provincial-level authorities are far higher than the central government’s national figure, raising fresh questions about the accuracy of statistics in the world’s most populous nation.

"GDP totalled Rmb15,376bn ($2,251bn) in the first half, according to data released individually by China’s 31 provinces and municipalities, 10 per cent higher than the official first-half GDP figure of Rmb13,986bn published by the National Bureau of Statistics.

"All but seven of the regions reported GDP growth rates above the bureau’s first-half figure of 7.1 per cent. At the start of the year, Beijing set 8 per cent as China’s growth target for the year. [read more]"

Since China is becoming such an important economy, what its economy does moves world stock markets. Given commentators' cult of GDP as a metric, the shakiness of China's national income accounts drives prudent investors to their worry beads.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Good News (Or Less Bad Bad News) From Labor Markets






The Bureau of Labor Statistics issued its employment report this morning. The unemployment rate fell from 9.5 percent to 9.4 percent. While the fall is not significant–month the month sampling variation can move it that much–it is a far cry from the large increases we have grown accustomed.

Jobs fell by 237,000 according to the payroll survey. This was less than half the monthly decline earlier this year and over 200,000 less than the average monthly job loss over the last twelve months.

A seeming bright note for Wichita: a first look at the payroll data indicates that jobs in the aerospace industry stopped their declines and may actually have risen. But I do not trust it. To get a rough estimate of what happened in the aerospace industry, you have to back into a number by subtracting out motor vehicles employment from transportation equipment employment. The bulk, but not all, of the rest is our own dear industry. For July when you make that estimate it shows a small increase in jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis. However, when I cross checked it against the unadjusted data, there was a 12,000+ decline. Unfortunately for us, the "good news" is simply an artifact of the seasonal adjustment process. Expect Wichita's unemployment rate in July to rise, not fall.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The decline in the Euro-zone's output is close to an end.

Why the Euro-zone's industrial output looks like it may decline for the fourteenth month, it looks like it is hitting bottom. Paul Hannon and Nicholas Winning at the Wall street Journal report "Markit Economics said Wednesday that its final euro-zone composite output index - a key gauge of private sector activity based on a survey of some 4,500 manufacturing and services firms - rose to 47.0 in July from 44.6 in June."

Japan's industrial output is up for four straight months in the biggest four month sure in fifty years.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Second Quarter U.S. GDP Down I

How much America produces as measured by its Gross Domestic Product fell again in the second quarter which ended June 30th, 2009. The decline of about one percent was in line with consensus estimates. No surprise to the stock market which rallied yesterday in anticipation. You could say the increase in pain is slowing down or as economists would put it the economic decline is decelerating.

Analysis

How did we get to a -1 percent seasonally adjusted annual rate of decline in total spending from a 6.4 percent decline in the first quarter? The huge declines in investment spending turned into more modest declines in the second quarter. This improvement would have gotten us back to zero but the rest of the accounts deteriorated by about one percent.

Government spending went from a net drag on the economy to a net addition to aggregate demand. Consumption spending fell however. While bad for contributing to domestic demand, it is a step toward correcting the fundamental imbalances that enabled the Great Financial Bust.

Exports contributed less and imports contributed more the growth in spending than in the previous quarter. For four straight quarters, import reductions have offset export losses to make a net positive contribution to the demand for American products and services. You could say we have helped ourselves by exporting part of the recession.

Has the Recovery Begun?

While my initial call that the U.S. economy toughed in March looks a tad optimistic, it now seems most likely that the turning point was in second quarter.

Revisions

The scorekeepers in the Commerce department's Bureau of Economic Analysis revised the history, so do not be surprised to find out that what you thought you knew about past cycles has been thrown down the memory tube (if you do not catch the allusion to 1984, add Orwell's book to your "Must Read List.") I do see that the BEA now shows one negative growth for 2008 quarter.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

If You Think Wichita's Unemployment Is Bad, Look At Detroit's!

The Bureau of Labor Statistics summarized the employment situation for the country's states and metropolitan areas. As announced earlier by the Kansas Department of Labor, Wichita's unemployment rate is 8.5 percent. That is up from 8.3 percent in May and is a lot worse than a year ago when 4.2 percent of Wichita's workforce was out of work.

While the number of unemployed has more than doubled in a year, the actual number of people saying they have jobs is down less than a half percent. Some of this discrepancy may reflect the inevitable variation arising from any statistical sampling of households. It could also mean more people are looking or saying they are looking for work as secondary wage earners seek to help out when the primary bread winner is laid off. The increased labor force participation may also come from an increase in the federal minimum wage. Firms may also be reacting to the new minimum wage by hiring more experienced, more productive, higher paid workers to replace less experienced workers.

Wichita looks good in comparison to the rest of America. Fifteen states have double digit unemployment rates. The Detroit-Livonia MSA has the dubious distinction of "achieving" more than double our our unemployment rate at 17.1 percent.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Yes, Virginia, the Fed Does Have An Exit Strategy

It seems literally Providential that Dr. Ben Bernanke was chairing the Board of Governors when the financial crisis hit. He, as a young researcher at Princeton, demonstrated how the financial crises in the 1930s were the missing link that converted the mild cyclical downturn of 1929 into the Great Depression.

In today's Wall Street Journal (see also below), he explains the Fed's exit policy. I have a very big worry about what he says. He argues the Fed has plenty of tools to fight inflation. He never mentions asset price bubbles.

The Wall Street Journal accuses him, in a former stint as a Governor, of being at the housing bubble's birthing. He helped support the intellectual case for not fighting the emerging bubble. At the December 9th, 2003 Board meeting he argued that the Fed could continue its negative real interest rate policy. His focus was on consumer price inflation and the output gap.

There are two problems with the Chairman's perspective: If a bubble allocates resources in the real economy, there will be cyclical unemployment that reflects these structural distortions. This unemployment will require a longer period of adjustment than ordinary cyclical unemployment. Thus the output gap will underestimate the economy's inflationary potential. Secondly preventing a bubble is just as important as preventing consumer price inflation.

Some of the comments share my concern. I particularly appreciated Avery Goodman's comment (reproduced below.)


The Fed’s Exit Strategy by Ben Bernanke (WSJ: July 20, 2009)

The depth and breadth of the global recession has required a highly accommodative monetary policy. Since the onset of the financial crisis nearly two years ago, the Federal Reserve has reduced the interest-rate target for overnight lending between banks (the federal-funds rate) nearly to zero. We have also greatly expanded the size of the Fed’s balance sheet through purchases of longer-term securities and through targeted lending programs aimed at restarting the flow of credit.

These actions have softened the economic impact of the financial crisis. They have also improved the functioning of key credit markets, including the markets for interbank lending, commercial paper, consumer and small-business credit, and residential mortgages.

My colleagues and I believe that accommodative policies will likely be warranted for an extended period. At some point, however, as economic recovery takes hold, we will need to tighten monetary policy to prevent the emergence of an inflation problem down the road. The Federal Open Market Committee, which is responsible for setting U.S. monetary policy, has devoted considerable time to issues relating to an exit strategy. We are confident we have the necessary tools to withdraw policy accommodation, when that becomes appropriate, in a smooth and timely manner.
The exit strategy is closely tied to the management of the Federal Reserve balance sheet. When the Fed makes loans or acquires securities, the funds enter the banking system and ultimately appear in the reserve accounts held at the Fed by banks and other depository institutions. These reserve balances now total about $800 billion, much more than normal. And given the current economic conditions, banks have generally held their reserves as balances at the Fed.

But as the economy recovers, banks should find more opportunities to lend out their reserves. That would produce faster growth in broad money (for example, M1 or M2) and easier credit conditions, which could ultimately result in inflationary pressures—unless we adopt countervailing policy measures. When the time comes to tighten monetary policy, we must either eliminate these large reserve balances or, if they remain, neutralize any potential undesired effects on the economy.

To some extent, reserves held by banks at the Fed will contract automatically, as improving financial conditions lead to reduced use of our short-term lending facilities, and ultimately to their wind down. Indeed, short-term credit extended by the Fed to financial institutions and other market participants has already fallen to less than $600 billion as of mid-July from about $1.5 trillion at the end of 2008. In addition, reserves could be reduced by about $100 billion to $200 billion each year over the next few years as securities held by the Fed mature or are prepaid. However, reserves likely would remain quite high for several years unless additional policies are undertaken.

Even if our balance sheet stays large for a while, we have two broad means of tightening monetary policy at the appropriate time: paying interest on reserve balances and taking various actions that reduce the stock of reserves. We could use either of these approaches alone; however, to ensure effectiveness, we likely would use both in combination.

Congress granted us authority last fall to pay interest on balances held by banks at the Fed. Currently, we pay banks an interest rate of 0.25%. When the time comes to tighten policy, we can raise the rate paid on reserve balances as we increase our target for the federal funds rate.

Banks generally will not lend funds in the money market at an interest rate lower than the rate they can earn risk-free at the Federal Reserve. Moreover, they should compete to borrow any funds that are offered in private markets at rates below the interest rate on reserve balances because, by so doing, they can earn a spread without risk.

Thus the interest rate that the Fed pays should tend to put a floor under short-term market rates, including our policy target, the federal-funds rate. Raising the rate paid on reserve balances also discourages excessive growth in money or credit, because banks will not want to lend out their reserves at rates below what they can earn at the Fed.

Considerable international experience suggests that paying interest on reserves effectively manages short-term market rates. For example, the European Central Bank allows banks to place excess reserves in an interest-paying deposit facility. Even as that central bank’s liquidity-operations substantially increased its balance sheet, the overnight interbank rate remained at or above its deposit rate. In addition, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of Canada have also used their ability to pay interest on reserves to maintain a floor under short-term market rates.

Despite this logic and experience, the federal-funds rate has dipped somewhat below the rate paid by the Fed, especially in October and November 2008, when the Fed first began to pay interest on reserves. This pattern partly reflected temporary factors, such as banks’ inexperience with the new system.

However, this pattern appears also to have resulted from the fact that some large lenders in the federal-funds market, notably government-sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, are ineligible to receive interest on balances held at the Fed, and thus they have an incentive to lend in that market at rates below what the Fed pays banks.

Under more normal financial conditions, the willingness of banks to engage in the simple arbitrage noted above will tend to limit the gap between the federal-funds rate and the rate the Fed pays on reserves. If that gap persists, the problem can be addressed by supplementing payment of interest on reserves with steps to reduce reserves and drain excess liquidity from markets—the second means of tightening monetary policy. Here are four options for doing this.

First, the Federal Reserve could drain bank reserves and reduce the excess liquidity at other institutions by arranging large-scale reverse repurchase agreements with financial market participants, including banks, government-sponsored enterprises and other institutions. Reverse repurchase agreements involve the sale by the Fed of securities from its portfolio with an agreement to buy the securities back at a slightly higher price at a later date.

Second, the Treasury could sell bills and deposit the proceeds with the Federal Reserve. When purchasers pay for the securities, the Treasury’s account at the Federal Reserve rises and reserve balances decline.

The Treasury has been conducting such operations since last fall under its Supplementary Financing Program. Although the Treasury’s operations are helpful, to protect the independence of monetary policy, we must take care to ensure that we can achieve our policy objectives without reliance on the Treasury.

Third, using the authority Congress gave us to pay interest on banks’ balances at the Fed, we can offer term deposits to banks—analogous to the certificates of deposit that banks offer their customers. Bank funds held in term deposits at the Fed would not be available for the federal funds market.

Fourth, if necessary, the Fed could reduce reserves by selling a portion of its holdings of long-term securities into the open market.

Each of these policies would help to raise short-term interest rates and limit the growth of broad measures of money and credit, thereby tightening monetary policy.

Overall, the Federal Reserve has many effective tools to tighten monetary policy when the economic outlook requires us to do so. As my colleagues and I have stated, however, economic conditions are not likely to warrant tighter monetary policy for an extended period. We will calibrate the timing and pace of any future tightening, together with the mix of tools to best foster our dual objectives of maximum employment and price stability.
—Mr. Bernanke is chairman of the Federal Reserve.


Avery Goodman's Comment:

Dear Mr. Bernanke,

There is nothing that I would like better than to see you proved correct. But, all the evidence shows otherwise.

The primary dealers of the Fed have received huge wads of almost-free-cash, in one way or another, as a part of your balance sheet expansion, as well as the fact that you have traded Treasuries for toxic waste held by the banks. So far, the cash you've handed out is not being used to fund productive industry in America. Instead, it is being used to fund speculation.

These primary dealers appear to be making loans mostly to client-speculators including hedge funds, and, also, supplying their own trading divisions. Since speculation thrives in time of volatility, price instability has resulted. The markets, in turn, have become Fed-driven, rather than free and independent,

We have seen an explosion in prices, as well as the overall level of speculation in the stock, oil, gold, silver, and commodities markets. A new bubble in asset prices is now being formed, and it has every prospect of eventually exceeding the previous one. We have seen little actual improvement in the U.S. economy, however.

Oil, in particular, has roared back in price, even though it is in serious oversupply. This is because people are buying everything that tends to rise in inflationary times. The wild speculative buying impairs the potential for the economy to recover.

Meanwhile, the dollar is currently in a free-fall, and the Chinese, Russians, Indians and even the Brazilians are threatening to settle trades in other currencies. Gold and silver, in contrast, are soaring into the stratosphere. Foreigners clearly do not have confidence in your policies.

You had better make it very crystal clear, when you testify, that you intend to take very strict and affirmative action to reduce the Fed balance sheet back to $900 billion or less, or this situation will continue to deteriorate.

I would love to be proven wrong. However, the result of your easy money policies has been rampant speculation. This speculative activity is being encouraged by, or directly participated in, by the big banks you have bailed out. We are now seeing a falling dollar, rising stock, gold, silver, and commodity prices, and a continuing hollowing out of the American economy.

It would have been better to allow the insolvent banks to fail, while allowing the FDIC to do its job of replacing whatever deposit money was lost. There would have been no repeat of the Great Depression, because of the existence of the safety net provided by FDIC insurance. The market share lost by the failed banks would have eventually shifted to their competitors, who would become bigger.

Instead, the Federal Reserve has attempted to micro-manage the economy in a manner similar to the Politburo of the old Soviet Union. This has brought us ever higher levels of moral hazard. Such policies are unwise, but since you apparently intend to continue to pursue them, I wish you the best of luck. You, and we, are going to need it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Xinjiang Is more Important than a New International Moneary System for China's Hu Jintao

The drama at the G-8 meeting in Italy came when China's Hu Jintao deserted the conference before it began.

Richard McGregor and Kathrin Hille explain Mr. "Hu, the president and communist party head, convened an emergency meeting of the leadership, the nine-member inner-circle of the Politburo, hours after arriving home on Wednesday from his truncated G8 trip to Italy.

The management of the crisis is a high-profile test for Mr Hu, who must satisfy the demands of hardliners within the party for a tough response, with an eye on the sensitivities of Muslim countries offshore.

China has blamed Sunday’s violence in Urumqi, which left 156 people dead and more than a thousand injured, on Xinjiang’s indigenous Muslim population, the Uighurs.
"

Thus it was Mr. Hu's surrogate that delivered China's call for a less dollar dependent international monetary system.

As George Parker, Guy Dinmore, Krishna Guha, and Justine Lau tell it "China attacks dollar’s dominance:" (FT: July 9 2009)

"China has launched its highest-profile criticism of the dominant role of the US dollar as a global reserve currency at a meeting of the world’s biggest economies.

"Dai Bingguo, Chinese state councillor, raised the issue on Thursday when he joined the leaders of four other emerging economies for talks with the leaders of the Group of Eight industrialised nations – including US President Barack Obama.
"

China has already taken concrete moves toward a reduced reliance on the greenback:

"China moves to cut reliance on dollar"

By Richard McGregor in the Financial Times, July 3 2009, Page 19


China has taken another step towards internationalising its currency and reducing reliance on the US dollar with the announcement of new rules to allow select companies to invoice and settle trade transactions in renminbi.

The regulations released by the People's Bank of China, the country's central bank, will allow approved companies to settle transactions through financial institutions in Shanghai and other cities in southern China.

Offshore, the trial scheme will allow transactions to be settled in renminbi in Hong Kong and Macao, the two self-governing territories on China's southern borders, and later in a limited fashion in south-east Asia as well.

Importers and exporters will be able to place orders with authorised Chinese companies, and settle payment for them, in renminbi.

Although it has no short-term implications for the full convertibility of the renminbi, the announcement adds to the volley of political signals Beijing has sent recently over its dissatisfaction with the US dollar.

"To many minds in China the US dollar's time is almost up, the eurozone suffers from political paralysis and a too-conservative central bank, while two decades of economic stagnation and a shrinking population do the yen no favours," said Stephen Green, of Standard Chartered, in Shanghai.

"For them, the renminbi is an obvious, and imminent, replacement."

Far from being a replacement for the dollar as a freely-traded reserve currency, the move has been justified by the PBoC initially as assisting exporters buffeted by the greenback's fluctuating value.

"Companies in China and neighbouring countries are facing relatively large risks of exchange-rate fluctuations because of big swings in the US dollar, the euro and other major currencies used for settlements," the PBoC statement said.

The rules have also been expressly drafted to ensure that the new regime is not used to circumvent China's capital controls, by requiring supporting documentation for transactions.

"Domestic settlement banks should take effective measures to know the nature and purpose of their clients' trading," the central bank said.

The announcement of an offshore role for the renminbi chimes with China's call earlier this year for a new reserve currency.

He Yafei, a vice-foreign minister, said in Beijing yesterday that China supported reserve currency diversification in the future and that it would be "normal" for the issue to be raised at the G8 talks.

The volume of trade conducted under the new rules is expected to be small initially, but over time it should increase demand for the renminbi.



Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Making Sense out of the Economic News: Not As Bad As The Dow Took It.

We have just had a great deal of economic news come out.

The Employment Report: The unemployment rate is up slightly to 9.5 percent (compared to 9.4 percent in May.) This was as expected. The payroll survey showed a bigger than expect drop: 467,000 jobs in June. The latter became the headline news. Wall Street opened a hundred and fifty points lower and continued to fall. London and European stock markets accelerated their early morning declines in response to the news. A closer look at the data shows a curious divergence in the trends measured by the household and establishment surveys. Over the last three months, the establishment survey shows employment falling by an average of 436 thousand jobs a month, while the household survey shows a monthly fall in employment almost half that (230 thousand.) This is significant because in the last recession household employment growth turned positive well over a year before payroll jobs turned up. Corrected for base biases, it may be a better cyclical indicator.

Aerospace appears to have lost another five thousand jobs in June for a two month total of 12-13,000. BLS does not break these data out, so I have to estimate them from the published data.

Consumer confidence was down. German and Australian retail sales were up and beat expectations. U.S. durable goods orders were up in May.

Non defense aircraft and parts orders were up as well. Although orders were half May, 2008, they reached the highest level since October. Order backlogs for the industry fell from 39.2 months to 33.4 months.

Car sales are up and appear to have bottomed out in February. They are way from May, 2008.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Turn in Thursday for News

Thursday will bring two big releases of national economic data with significant implications for the Wichita economy.

9:00 A.M. Central Daylight Savings Time: The Bureau of Economic Analysis (of the Commerce Department) will issue data for May manufacturing orders, shipments, backlogs, etc. While total new orders are an important cyclical indicator, we in Wichita will be particularly interested in the new and unfilled orders for the aerospace industry. This will not include the impact of Quantas' recent cancellation of orders for 15 Dreamliners.

7:30 A.M. Central Daylight Savings Time: The June employment report. Normally this would be issued Friday, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics is moving it up a day for the Independence Day holiday. The consensus of forecasts is that it will show a loss of 350,000 jobs on nonfarm payrolls and the unemployment rate up to 9.6 percent.

What to look for: A better showing on job losses would support our thesis that the economy has bottomed out. Even without a significant surprise from the payroll data, the report may better expectations on the unemployment rate which is based on the notoriously noisy household survey. The household survey also gives an alternative measure of employment. Analysts tend to ignore this measure for techical reasons, however I have found a careful analysis of these data gives better signals at turning points. By this metric the decline in employment has moderated even more than manefested on the establishment survey. Look for further confirmation of bottoming out. The non aerospace component of Wichita's economy needs to see a pickup in activity in the national economy.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Bank of China Has Elevated Zhou Xiaochuan's Call for International Monetary Reform


Mr. Zhou Xiaochuan, is the People's Bank of China's Governor and Chairman of the Monetary Policy Committee. He published a paper on March 23, 2009 calling for increased use of the SDR as a reserve currency. Read Governor Zhou Xiaochuan's call to "Reform the International Monetary System" on the Bank's web site.

Robert Flint in the Wall Street Journal tells us, "In its 2009 financial-stability report on Friday, the People's Bank of China elevated the status of earlier suggestions for a new international currency. The ideas put forward in March in an essay by central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan have now become part of the official view.

"The report is essentially a reiteration of the call in Mr. Zhou's essay for expanded use of Special Drawing Rights, a basket of currencies used by the International Monetary Fund. There is nothing in the stability report that hasn't been stated before.

"The central bank took a big step when it published Mr. Zhou's essay in English on its Web site in March. But to make his views a central-bank-backed position puts more authority behind the call for a new reserve currency.

"The central bank is an arm of the Chinese government and ultimately answers to the State Council, the country's highest governing body."

China to Be Long On Gold & Real Estate and Short on the Dollar


Dow Jones reported that gold was up during the day's trading: "The initial rise occurred on a day when the U.S. dollar weakened partly in response to comments from the People's Bank of China saying it will push for reform of the international currency system to make it more diversified and reduce over-reliance on the current reserve currencies, primarily the dollar. This particularly caught the eye of gold traders a day after a senior economic researcher in the Communist Party expressed concern about the dollar and said gold could be a better alternative.

"'The People's Bank of China's call for a new global reserve currency or super-sovereign currency will likely lead to further pressure on the dollar and gold buying,' said Mark O'Byrne, director of bullion dealer GoldCore.
"


The BRIC countries have called for the creation of a new reserve currency or at least a reduced dependence on the dollar.


"The composition of the basket is reviewed every five years. the next review is due in 2010.
"

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Is Immunizing the U.S. Economy Against the Dutch Disease So Bad?

I have written that "Plain Vanilla Banks Must Wax and Wall Street Must Wane." The Wall Street Journal's David Weidner seems to think that is a bad idea, especially to the extent it is a policy goal of the Obama administration. In today's "The Perils of a Smaller Wall Street: Reforms Seek Smaller Pockets of Risk, but Globally, Big Firms Still Dominate," he notes there are now only two U.S. banks in the world's top ten (JPMorgan and Citi) and they are near the bottom.

How bad is it that we are no longer the Masters of the Universe? It is not that long ago that Japan had eight of the ten spots on that list. The result? The next ten years were a lost decade for the Japanese economy. Is this just another example of post hoc, ergo propter hoc (the logical fallacy of "after this, therefore because of this)? Japan had a bubble because of a huge overexpansion in credit, foreign financed after financial deregulation. Inflated capital led to overexpansion of banks and a monster bubble. Bubbles burst. Bubbles distort incentives and misallocate resources. Like inflation, bubbles are bad and are caused by bad policy.

The United States has suffered from a virulent form of the Dutch disease these last twenty years. As Wall Street has sucked in capital from all over the world, manufacturing has been hollowed out. As value added in the financial sector grew, our competitiveness waned.

The White House White Paper is largely ratifying reality. (See below and today's Eagle: "New financial rules explained.") The more prudent banks (JPMorgan, Intrust) will prosper. The others have been shrunk in true capitalist fashion. If the financial sector shrinks, so be it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

On FT/com: Good CFO

Numbers guys you can count on

By Luke Johnson

I have hired quite a few finance directors over the years. Some were outstanding; others did not work out so well. Inevitably, I have acquired some views about what makes a great numbers guy.

I prefer working with someone fundamentally conservative. Bullish chief finance officers are dangerous. The leader of a business needs to be an optimist, and sales-oriented. But every business needs at least one person at the top alongside them to worry about the downside. I insist that the senior finance person is a qualified accountant. Whether they are a certified public accountant or a chartered accountant, they will have been taught how vital prudence is when preparing accounts, budgets and so forth. I am always astonished at how huge US corporations, like Enron and leading investment banks, can hire go-go MBAs as their CFOs. No wonder they got into trouble.

The CFO must be able to assemble and analyse financial statements themselves: I do not want a quick-talking professional who has risen so far that they do not understand the business’s accounting systems. But they must also be able to see the whole picture and not get so immersed in detail that they overlook major issues – a surprisingly common failing.

The CFO must also be able to explain treatments, policies and consequences so that every executive can understand them. The best accountants do not hide behind jargon or technical mumbo-jumbo. Great accountants are so familiar with the company’s books that they can swiftly identify each entry, liabilities and assets, every item of income and expense, flows of cash, margins and all the rest, where material.

Some CFOs get bored with things like management accounts, and really want to be corporate financiers. They would rather be doing deals, having power lunches and indulging in the whole merry-go-round, rather than crunching the numbers. Those tasks have their place, but they are not the first order of business. Principally, the CFO must be in absolute command of the figures and financial basics, such as tax, debt and key ratios. Only once they have total mastery of vital administration should they be thinking about the sexy stuff like M&As.

As well as highly numerate, a modern CFO must be something of an IT expert. There are still a surprising number of finance professionals who struggle to use even unsophisticated accounting software. It must be a devastating disadvantage for anyone performing a high level finance job in the 21st century. Similarly, a rounded CFO will have a thorough knowledge of property – leases, financing and the rest – and insurance, as well as a good grounding in corporate law and company secretarial affairs.

The best CFOs have a close, mutually respectful, but not subservient relationship with the chief executive. Those who never disagree and do not stand up to their boss on key matters are not worth having. Ultimately, shareholders and the board place huge faith in the CFO. Whoever fills the post must be independently minded and a strong enough character to deliver the truth to the owners and non-executives – no matter how unpalatable. While every CFO should be a partner to the CEO, they should always believe they report to the board and owners of a corporation.

As with every senior role, an ability to manage people and a sense of humour are critical. But with a CFO, absolute integrity and a capacity for hard work are even more important. During difficult times the role cannot be executed in 40 hours a week and a holiday entitlement of six weeks. Periods of crisis call for all hands to the pump. CFOs are the ones who are managing costs, coping with foreign exchange risks, dealing with pressing bankers and covenants, collecting overdue money and ensuring the auditors do not qualify the accounts. A proper company cannot function without a decent finance director at the helm, supervising, informing and warning.

They may not win all the applause as corporate heroes, but without their contribution even the sexiest business would soon be in trouble.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Can the Fed Go Belly Up?

During the bubble years, we worried that investment banks got overlevered running up leverage ratios (ratios of assets to equity) of thirty and forty times. We all know what happened then.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Consolidated Balance Sheet shows its leverage ratio was 37.5 times at year end 2007. Its President in 2008 was a Timothy Geitner (now Secretary of the Treasury.) At the end of 2008, the Fed of New York achieved a leverage ratio of 112.5 times.

Maybe their old boss can bail them out if they go bust now that some banks are buying back TARP stock.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The White Paper Outlining Regulatory Reform

Yesterday in a series of public interviews and announcements, the administration in Washington put forth its proposed reform of U.S. financial regulation. The proposal itself is embodied in an 89 page White Paper, "Financial Regulatory Reform: A New Foundation." It is a combination of the "art of the possible," America's penchant for committees, and ratification of the de facto reality.

Otto von Bismark declared, "Politics is the art of the possible." President Obama is realistic about what he can get through Congress and what he can not. Simplifying and consolidating the patchwork quilt of prudential and financial services regulation would provoke a huge turf war that would stall this legislation and much of the rest of his agenda.

The Fed is a big winner. It gains authority to regulate any firm which is a systemic threat to the financial system. A GE Capital or an American Express could come under its prudential regulation if it is big enough and/or interrelated enough to be a source of systemic risk. The New Deal left investment banks largely outside the circle of prudential regulation. The financial crisis drove the main investment banks either out of business or into bank holding companies as permitted under Gramm-Leach-Bliley. Thus the remaining major investment banks are already under the Fed's regulation. Other large or potentially system threatening firms could be designated "Tier 1 Financial Holding Companies" (Tier 1 FHCs) even though they do not hold subsidiaries that issue deposits. Importantly the Fed will regulated these Tier 1 FHCs on a consolidated basis. Bear in mind that the Fed is the only agency that has the firepower to deal with systemically threatening businesses.

Although the Fed will be the prudential regulator for Tier 1 FHCs, it is not clear who will put up the capital for non banks that need to be resolved in a liquidation. It appears the Treasury is to resolve these situations, but will it require a prior Congressional appropriation such as TARP did?

It looks like Tier 1 FHCs will be required to hold to more stringent capital requirements. It is not clear whether that is more stringent that non Tier 1 FHCs or more stringent than pre-crisis requirements.

The Treasury will chair a Financial Services Oversight Council. The Office of Thrift Supervision disappears, but there will be a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

Securitization and such derivatives as Credit Default Swaps were at the heart of the financial crisis. Firms issuing securitized obligations will have to have some "skin" in the game much like European income bonds or the Federal Home Loan programs. Excellent idea!

The proposal calls for more comprehensive regulation of derivatives. I will need to dig into the details before I can determine how much beef there is in the rhetorical receipe. The Fed gains authority over "systemically important payment, clearing, and settlements systems."

The split in authority between the SEC and the CFTC continues, but the Financial Services Oversight Council can adjudicate disputes. Will it intervene when neither does its job? Remember Enron?

Some thoughts:

Bigger capital requirements on the big boys is effectively a tax on their ROE. It is not necessarily a bad thing that Wall Street shrinks and the small fry gain, but Wall Street has its lobbying clout to be delt with.

The proposal seems to call for a pullback from Basel II and greater capital requirements for risky assets. At the same time it calls for "a simple, non-risk based capital measure to limit the amount of leverage built up in the international financial system." This sounds like squareing the circle to me.

There is a call for less procyclical capital requirements. Spain is the star in this credit crisis. By adopting capital requirements that go up in a boom and are smoothed in a bust, Spain's banks (much like Brazil's) come out of the crisis is relatively good shape. Spain was not saved from a housing bubble, however. It would be impolite to point out that the Fed, the White Paper's big regulatory winner, caused the bubble in the first place.

There are considerable words about firm value accounting and transparancy. The White Paper requires that accounting be looked into again. I seem to remember that mark to market accounting was at the heart of the Enron debacle. Enron and WorldCom led to financial institutions' being subject to greater market to market accounting. Those commissioned to look into these issues will find the conflict between fair market accounting and banks' function of intermediation illiquid loans a difficult nut to crack.

Monday, June 15, 2009

There Is Some Cross Price Elasticity Between Coal and Natural Gas


Rebecca Smith and Ben Casselman report in the Wall Street Journal that falling natural gas prices are gaining it market share in the electricity market at coal's expense. There appears to be a non zero cross price elasticity between coal and natural gas in this market. No doubt there is more in the longer run than the shorter run.

If You Want To See How Congress Will Manage GM, Look at the Job It is Doing with the Postal Service

In today's Wall Street Journal, Kathy Chen reports, "Post Office Looks to Scale Back." Faced with a shocking fall in mail volumes (according to Ms Chen it is down 32 billion pieces in two years), the Postal Service finds one congressional road block after another in the way of reducing costs or increasing revenues.

He who calls the tune (Congress) does not pay the piper. The Service runs on its own revenues as a business, but Congress still restricts what they can do even though it does not pay for the Postal Service.

Arguably the Postal Service is a natural monopoly in a declining cost industry. Milton Friedman used to argue there are three solutions to the problem of monopoly: government ownership, regulation, or doing nothing. He always favored the last. The Postal Service has the worst of both worlds: it is both government owned and regulated. They are regulated even though it is not a private company.

Congress made matters worse when it changed the Postal Service's controlling legislation. It restricted its entering new businesses, restricted its price increases to inflation or less, and required it to prepay its retiree health benefits without tying the payments to changing actuarial costs. If Ford lays off workers, it reduces its future retiree health benefits. If the Postal Service cuts its workforce, Congress does not reflect the cuts in its annual bill.

Free the Postal Service up so it can compete. UPS's virtual monopoly in ground parcels (particularly BTB) and its price discrimination are not healthy for the U.S. economy. The customers of UPS and FedEx would benefit from more competition.

Congress's micromanaging of the Postal Service foreshadows what is in store for bailed out firms. Citi, GM and Chrysler will find government control and Congressional tinkering far more onerous than governmental ownership itself. As a shareholder in Ford and JPMorgan, I am happy to see both free of the TARP ball and chain.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Aircraft Exports Are Up!

Dan Voorhis reports on Kansas.com that U.S. aircraft exports are up 5.7 percent over March and 5.1 percent for the first third of 2009 compared to 2008.

We will need to check the backlog figures which figure to be down.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Unemployment Jumps to 9.4%; Job Losses "Down" to 345,000

My first quick thoughts:

The May establishment survey shows 345,000 fewer jobs than in April. That is bad and makes my assertion that March was the recession trough look a little shakier. Still after the massive losses we saw over the last few months, it looks like an improvement.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also surveys households. This survey shows an even bigger drop in the number of Americans who say they have jobs: 437,000. Remember that the household survey actually showed an employment increase (yes, I said an increase) in April and that this survey is subject to greater month to month sampling variation than the establishment survey. It also does not have the contemporaneous biases caused by the firms births/deaths adjustment process.

The headline news is the jump in the unemployment rate from 8.9 percent (compared to Wichita's 7.1 percent) in April to 9.4 percent in May. This is the worst since the early 1980s. (Unemployment hit a peak of 10.8 percent in November and December, 1982.)

How did the unemployment rate go from 8.5 percent two months ago to 9.4 percent?

The biggest driver is an increase in the work force of over a million in those two months. More people are looking for jobs.

Why? Hard times force more people into the work force. Most of the increase is among men and teenagers. This increase might reflect high school students and graduates looking for jobs sooner than the BLS's statistical adjustment assumes they do. There was a 536,000 increase in the workforce among those with no or only high schooling. The minimum wage increased last July and is slated to do so again next month. As often happens when the minimum wage goes up, the unemployment rate rises among minority teenages. It is now close to 40 percent for Black teenagers.

Wichita

It looks like employment fell another 7,000 jobs in the aircraft industry. Still now there may be more jobs in aerospace than in the automotive manufacturing.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A $10 Billion Order Is Up for Grabs!

Bloomberg's Susanna Ray reports that United Airlines plans to order up to 150 aircraft. "The order will be mix of a wide-body and narrow-body planes," according to her source. "Boeing Co. has been invited to participate in an aircraft-replacement program by the UAL Corp. unit," according to Boeing spokesman, Jim Condelles.

Susan Carey tells us in the Wall Street Journal, "United Airlines has asked Boeing Co. and Airbus to propose dueling bids for up to 150 new airliners -- the latest example of major companies exploiting the recession to bargain-hunt.

"For the two aircraft makers, the deal could be worth more than $10 billion at a time when both are watching other customers cancel or defer orders. By staging a winner-take-all competition, United's parent, UAL Corp., is hoping to obtain better terms than otherwise might be available, according to people familiar with the situation.

"It's a notable move amid falling travel demand and a tight lending environment -- on top of UAL's recent heavy losses and poor credit rating.
"

If Boeing wins this all or nothing bidding, it will help our own Spirit.

Given United's financial condition, the current environment disproves the adage that "Beggars can't be choosers."

The Recovery Is On! Fair Dinkum!

By MarketWatch's Myra P. Saefong reports Australia's gross domestic product is up in the first quarter and in comparison with last year's first quarter.

She writes, "The nation's GDP expanded by seasonally adjusted 0.4% in the first quarter, both in comparison with the same quarter a year ago and with the fourth quarter," citing the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The All Ordinaries gained 62 points going over 4,000 for the first time since November. Hallelujah!

The Aussie dollar is also up. Ms. Saefong reports "The Australian dollar also strengthened, with one Australian dollar buying 82.26 U.S. cents, up from the previous close of 82.07 U.S. cents."

In the fourth-quarter, Australia's GDP dropped 0.6%, the first drop in eight years. Apparently the Aussie national income accountants do not report growth rates in seasonally adjusted annual rates annualized. It makes the numbers less dramatic.

"The bureau said that growth on the expenditure side over the past four quarters was driven by household spending and by exports, offset by a fall in inventories."

Disclosure: your correspondent has shares in an Aussie closed end fund.

What does it mean?

Australia's economy is tied to Asia. When the Chinese dragon stokes up its furnace, Australia and Brazil feed the beast the inputs that fuel its exuberance. Thus Australia's economic growth and the Aussie dollar are leading indicators of the globalized economy.


This implies that the world economy is recovering. Further dramatic confirmation can be found in the Baltic Dry Index, an indicator of shipping prices. As trade picks up, it costs more to hire a ship to transport it. The index has increased four-fold since December returning to the boom levels of 2004-6 and soaring toward the bubble levels of mid-2008.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Kansas Economy Grew Above Average In 2008


Exports, world economic growth, and the aircraft industry helped make Kansas the eighth fastest growing state in 2008.